Healthcare apps have never been more popular, or more widely available. A recent IQVIA report states that over the last two years the number of healthcare apps has increased from 165,000 to 318,500. The top selling 41 apps have around 10 million downloads each, and it’s thought that around 200 new apps are being added to Google Play and Apple Store every day.
A few examples of these new healthcare apps include:
- Active 10 – Part of Public Health England’s “One You” campaign, this app is aimed at encouraging people to do at least 10 minutes brisk walking a day. People living in the UK are on average walking 15 miles less than they were 20 years ago. This app encourages adults to incorporate brisk walking into their lifestyles as a simple way of improving health.
- Evergreen Life – Fully approved by the NHS, Evergreen Life’s medical app is now connected to three major GP systems in the UK – EMIS, TPP and Vision – and has more than a quarter of a million users. The app allows users to book GP appointments, view their test results and order repeat prescriptions.
- Ada – Marketed as a “personal health companion app”, Ada aims to offer personalised care by combining doctor’s medical insight with artificial intelligence. With private investments in the enterprise recently topping £35 million, it is clear that investors consider digital health to be a growing industry that it is worth being a part of.
Top healthcare apps
The recent IQVIA report looked into the best health apps based on the top-rated free and publicly available apps as well as the top clinical rating apps (with the clinical ratings being calculated on reviews of the app’s content, usability, accuracy, efficacy and safety). Some of the best apps available based on their clinical rating are:
- Fitbit – This GPS-enabled app allows users to track their fitness activity and log their food intake. IQVIA’s report ranked this app as the top clinically rated app for exercise. Its goal is to “empower and inspire” people to live active and healthy lives.
- Echo – Users can request repeat prescriptions, and set reminders to take medication. The app is compatible with all NHS GP surgeries and so far more than 45,000 people have downloaded it.
- Headspace – This app provides users with guided meditation exercises and educational videos, and was rated top in the IQVIA report for stress management.
How do they benefit patients and healthcare?
Many of these apps fit into the area of “wellness”. They allow people to monitor their food intake, sleep patterns and exercise routine. By providing information and useful functions, these apps help guide people to decisions that will ultimately improve their health. For example, research has shown that improve adherence to medication can result in lower levels of healthcare utilisation and a decreased risk of hospitalisation. Apps which remind users to take their medication could help save the healthcare system money and contribute to improved outcomes.
In addition to this, mHealth apps have been used in more than 800 clinical trials worldwide. Thus they are also contributing to scientific advancement, using real-world evidence to potentially help to bring life-changing products to market.
The benefits of these apps are wide-ranging and their use is becoming more mainstream than ever. Authorities and national organisations are lending their support to these services in addition to private investors. The industry is growing rapidly and it’s likely that more companies will bring innovative healthcare products to market. MHealth should continue to empower patients and help to improve care.
Jane Braithwaite’s latest article, ‘You, Robot?’, published in the Independent Practitioner Today talks about how automation is playing an ever increasing role in the medical practice. Read on …
Could you be automated?
In 2011 – IBM’s Watson computer won the game show, Jeopardy, and is now functioning as a diagnostic device for cancer patients.
What are the implications of automation in the medical world and how far could they reach?
Let’s take an objective look at automation and robots. We’ve already accepted extensive automation in our lives without necessarily having registered radical changes. Seems like self-service kiosks in supermarkets and petrol stations are now omnipresent – albeit irritating devices. Can we imagine life without ATMs? Online banking is a good example of useful automation. Who today would envisage queuing at lunchtime to cash a cheque?
In this article we will review the pros and cons of automation and its potential impact on the medical profession.
What can be automated?
Anything that entails basic hand eye coordination, can be done by mechanical devices. Routine, repetitive and predictable jobs are most suited to automation. The more transactional a task is – the more plausible this process. At the most basic level, automation requires capital investment to replace labour.
Tasks including large volumes of information are perfectly suited to automation as machines are able to organise huge quantities of data. Machines such as iPhones create and process vast amounts of information; we will increasingly use machines to organise and present the said data in a useful way. It’s quite a conundrum.
Tasks and jobs that involve personal contact, interaction, dialogue, debate and negotiation cannot be performed well by a robot.
Is this disruptive, destructive or exciting?
Current jargon on the subject includes disruptive technology and disruptive innovation. New corporations such as AirBnB and Uber have disrupted traditional business models and subsequently enjoyed huge success. It’s fair to observe that whilst these innovative businesses have generated employment and augmented customer satisfaction, they’ve also had a negative impact on incumbent businesses such as London’s traditional black cabs.
A study by the McKinsey global Institute predicted that by 2025 robots could replace 40 million to 75 million Jobs worldwide
Automation will largely affect tasks and jobs that are transactional in nature. Jobs that can’t be automated include those that rely on personal interaction, in which the calibre of customer service is highly relevant. Consider the hotel industry. If you’ve booked into a Travel Lodge, you might be happy to check in with your credit card. If you’re looking forward to a celebratory stay at Claridge’s you would undoubtedly prefer a warm, personal welcome.
Impact on the medical profession
Given that the fundamental nature of a doctor’s work entails personal interaction and empathy, we might assume a minimal impact from automation in the medical field. I would envisage impact occurring in three separate areas:
1. Diagnosis and treatment
2. Robotic solutions as medical devices
3. Automation in the medical environment
Diagnosis and treatment
Automation will be hugely important in the area of diagnosis. As previously mentioned, IBM’s Watson computer is able to suggest diagnoses and treatment options by analysing symptoms, a patient’s medical history and research studies. In this instance – the ability to process large volumes of data is highly significant.
Automation can benefit patients by providing an increased quality and range of treatment options. For example, the iBG star diabetes manager app is a blood glucose meter that can be attached to an iPhone. This enables patients to check blood insulin levels at any location, and obtain results almost immediately.
Automation offers huge possibilities for genomics. Genomics England is an exciting project; whose aim is to sequence 100,000 genomes from 70,000 people. Their latest website statistics shows they have reached 12,256 to date. The data from one sample is equivalent to 100GB or 20 HD movies. The stated aim is to improve diagnosis, especially in cancer. These quantities of data will need to be processed by a computer, and the outcome will be precision medicine, speedy diagnosis and the ability to predict the success of different treatment plans.
Robotic solutions as medical devices
Numerous developments of robotic solutions to medical problems are underway. This is an exciting area and potential benefits to patients could be huge. The ability to provide a prosthetic leg that can monitor and emulate a patient’s walking patterns, is a reality with the Otto Block Microprocessor C leg. The “knee” adjusts accordingly, enabling the user to walk at different speeds, thus increasing safety on stairs and ramps.
Eksoskeletons are being employed to assist people with spinal injuries as well as enhancing rehabilitation for those learning how to walk again, for example – after having suffered a stroke.
RFID chips are slowly making an impact in the medical world; the future will see greatly increased usage. At Sanraku hospital in Tokyo patients wear their RFID tag in a wristband. Their injection prescriptions are stored on a chip which is read by a handheld reader; this ensures the correct drugs are prescribed, whilst simultaneously linking back to patient records and the relevant hospital inventory.
In addition there are also some exciting developments in ophthalmology taking place. An Artificial silicon retina has been used with great success by Dr Chow. The device consists of a 2 mm diameter ASR microchip. It’s a good solution for patients with retinal degeneration and works by converting light energy. As a result, one patient reported significant vision returning, having previously lost their sight entirely.
Robotic hearts have been used for many years as a temporary solution whilst patients await a human heart transplant. A French company called CarMat (an unfortunate name in English) has created a permanent Artificial heart solution. The device runs a five-year lithium battery but its cost is high at $200,000. The benefits in terms of after-care are enormous as the heart effectively monitors itself. The greatest concern with such devices is the possibility of hacking. Also, Dick Cheney had a temporary robotic heart and was so worried about it being hacked that he asked for the Wi-Fi to be disconnected!
Automation in the medical environment
We are destined to see huge changes in the medical environment. From robots delivering patients’ prescriptions on the ward, vast changes in medical secretaries’ and admin staffs’ work practices will undoubtedly ensue.
Taking a wider view of the environment doctors work in, drones will be both innovative and daunting. They are likely to be used increasingly in disaster relief. In 2012, drones were used to deliver small aid packages after the Haitian earthquake. Furthermore, Doctors without borders have also used drones to transport TB test samples to remote villages.
[plsc_pullquote align=”right”]”We are destined to see huge changes in the medical environment.”[/plsc_pullquote]
In the future, we may see drones being used to transport blood products to hospitals and large-scale incidents, along with drugs and defibrillators; the possibilities are limitless.
Within the practice and hospital environment, one of the first developments of automation will most likely be patient appointments. It’s unlikely that many will miss the incessant ringing of practice phones by patients requesting urgent appointments; this will be done automatically!
Many of the administration tasks that are carried out manually at a doctor’s practice, will be automated in the future. These include computer generation of bills subsequent to patient’s appointments, and chasing of payments, if necessary. This could and should be more commonplace.
Will you need a medical secretary? We envisage changes occurring subtly over time, including a slow evolution of the medical secretary’s role. Personal interaction will remain key: someone to meet, greet and reassure nervous patients will always be a fundamental requirement in the private medical world.
We look forward exploring this brave new world with you.
Jane Braithwaite is Managing Director at Designated Medical and regularly contributes to the Independent Practitioner Today publication.
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Jane Braithwaite’s latest article, ‘The Application of Science’, published in the Independent Practitioner Today talks about the top ten apps for doctors and how they can make life easier. Read on …
The application of science
Which Apps are you using to make your life easier? Jane Braithwaite (right) presents her choice of the top ten apps for doctors.We have been investigating medical apps and our findings have been somewhat mixed. The majority that we checked out, including Medscape and Medpulse, are very US-centric.Apps provided by large medical authorities such as the World Health Organisation, function well for a specific purpose, but are not widely useful.
We did find a few gems, though. If you know of any that we have missed and should be on our list, please do let us know.
You can download the pocket anatomy app free of charge or buy a package which includes Pocket Brain and Pocket Heart for £10.99. To quote the company, you can ‘fly around the body with the swipe of your finger’.
We loved exploring this. It would be great for medical students or specialists who need to jog their memory about less familiar parts of the anatomy, and there are quizzes to test your knowledge. You could also use this to explain the anatomy to patients.
This fabulous app allows you to practise surgery anywhere. A vast library of simulations is available to download, and you can test yourself in privacy. My daughter enjoyed performing brain surgery!
The BMJ app instantly provides doctors with decision-support information. It’s not as attractive as our number-two app, but it links to NICE and other guideline procedures. You can search for and download relevant information and personalise to a certain extent.
This is very simple: the user places their finger over the camera lens and holds it there for a few seconds . . . and your heart rate is revealed.
You can upgrade to track your results over time and create fitness plans based on your individual heart rate. This could be a useful tool in an emergency situation or to give patients a degree of control over their health.
Up to Date is amazing. It’s an evidence-based resource tool that can assist you in making the right decision. The information available in the app is peer-reviewed and there are 5,000+ contributors: all doctors and clinicians.
It’s produced by Wolters Kluwer, and 100-plus UK hospitals and approximately 1,700 independent doctors have signed up too.
This app makes the process of recording your continuing professional development (CPD) activity easy to do – instantly. You can make a record on your app. When needed, download a summary report into your appraisal or revalidation process – making a simple, but easily forgotten task, easier to handle.
This is the first health tracker that allows patients to compile, log and send personal data to their doctor. The data received enables the doctor to provide patients with personalised, professional assistance, but also gives the patient increased control over their behaviour. UMotif currently has 9,000+ users, primarily based in London.
MIMS – Monthly Index of Medical Specialities – has been advising doctors for over 50 years about drugs licensed in the UK, providing dosage, warnings and other relevant information. The MIMS app allows access to information on over 2,000 drugs anywhere, anytime.
This app is US-based, but it is increasing globally in popularity. It provides access to up-to-date medical and scientific research.
There are over 3,000 reviews on Apple’s App Store and many users give it a five-star rating. You can personalise the app so it delivers information that is relevant to you, search specific journals and download individual articles. It’s a great resource.
I saved this one until last. It’s not specific to doctors, but it is brilliant and will prove to be incredibly helpful. It allows you to scan documents wherever you are.
You may well be thinking that it’s easier to take a photo, but how easy is it to print the photo?
The quality would be poor and you would rack up a huge ink cartridge bill. With iscanner, you can create PDFs that are easily emailed and stored. This will cost a couple of pounds, but I guarantee you will use it every day.
Jane Braithwaite is Managing Director at Designated Medical and regularly contributes to the Independent Practitioner Today publication.
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